Hollywood hasn’t seen anything quite like this in 60 years. Thousands of strike actors and writers are picketing outside studios where production is at a standstill.
Demetri Belardinelli was one of hundreds of picketers who gathered outside Walt Disney Studios in Burbank on Friday in the sweltering sun. After talks with studios failed, he and the other 160,000 members of SAG-AFTRA had voted for a strike the day before.
Belardinelli, the other actors and members of the Writers Guild of America took their place on the picket line alongside those who are on strike. The writers have been striking since May 2 to increase pressure on Hollywood studios.
Belardinelli said, “This is an energy surge and people that are much needed,” as cars passed by honked in solidarity. “None among us wants to continue the strike. “But the studios must meet our demands.”
It has been 43 years since the Screen Actors Guild went on strike, and even longer since both actors and writers pickedeted together. The last time they took part in a joint strike was 1960 when Ronald Reagan led the Screen Actors Guild.
Veterans of previous Hollywood labor negotiations report that the level of anger and distrust between the unions and studios, which are represented the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), is high. Many in the film industry are bracing themselves for a long strike, at a time when major studios are on a retrenchment plan.
Disney, Warner Bros. and Paramount have cut costs after making multi-billion dollar investments in streaming. They also saw a sharp decline in their linear TV business. The share prices of these companies are also under pressure.
The industry is just beginning to recover from Covid-19’s production disruptions. Now, work on new movies and TV shows have stopped. This will cause future releases to be disrupted. In a research note, Tim Nollen said that if the WGA writers’ strike was a nuisance for Hollywood productions, the SAG/AFTRA actors’ strike is more disruptive.
Writers and actors are concerned about the decline in royalties, which has been a major issue since the advent of streaming services. They also want to see rules on the use artificial intelligence. Writers are worried that they will receive less money for adapting AI-generated scripts, while actors worry about their digital images being used without compensation.
Emily Cheever-Mallonee was a writer and strike captain at Disney. She said, “Both writers and actors have noticed substantial changes in how we are paid by both big streaming companies and legacy companies.” It is worth fighting to get residuals when some of the biggest shows on streaming services are paying us less than ever.
The strikes coincide with the first summer film slate for cinemas since 2019. SAG rules prohibit actors from promoting movies, such as the highly anticipated Barbie or Oppenheimer that will be released on July 21. Studio executives and analysts agree that such promotion is essential to raise awareness for films. Universal, the distributor of Oppenheimer said that the New York premiere had been cancelled.
Bob Iger is Disney’s CEO. He told CNBC that the Covid-19 pandemic was still a few months away from being over. There’s an expectation they have that just isn’t realistic.
Iger made these comments at the Allen & Co Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho. This conference has been dubbed the “billionaires summer camp”. Disney announced earlier in the week that Iger would have his tenure extended by two more years, and that Iger’s annual bonus scheme was increased five-fold.
Both unions were outraged by Iger’s comments. Picketers have begun carrying mocking signs outside Disney. One sign read: “Bob Iger’s Salary Isn’t ‘Realistic'”. Fran Drescher said that she found Iger’s remarks “utterly repugnant, out of touch and tone-deaf”.
Iger is considered Hollywood’s de-facto leader and many people in the industry hoped that he could use his influence to help broker a settlement between studios and unions. The hostile response to Iger’s comments highlighted the rift between the studios and the unions.
Cheever-Mallonee said, “It is funny that he would say that on a billionaire ranch after [Disney] had announced how much money the company was expecting him to make in the coming years.” “I believe that the public can see through the B.S. When a multimillionaire says something like that.”
She predicted that given the distance between studios and unions, relations would become “a little nastier”, before a solution was found.
More than 300 Hollywood stars, among them Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Stereep wrote to SAGAFTRA leadership last month in support of possible strike action. They wrote: “This is not the time for compromise,” signaling that they want the union to be tough.
A Hollywood executive claimed that unions had rejected a studio’s strong offer of pay, particularly given the current state of film and television. The executive stated that, as the industry struggles to recover from the three-year pandemic experience and is now in a position of near-death, it’s important to find a middle ground. We can debate what middle means, but let’s find a compromise.
The strike will have a negative impact on California’s economy. The last writers’ strike in 2007-08 lasted for 100 days and cost the state approximately $2bn. However, it did not affect production to such an extent as this one will. This will have a knock-on effect on other small businesses, including florists, caterers and hairdressers.
Cheever-Mallonee said, “We understand that the strike disrupts not only our work but also those workers who are not unionised. They cannot stand with us.” We’re fighting to keep all of our jobs. We don’t strike casually and we don’t strike just for fun, do we?